Sunday, November 6, 2011

Massage Therapy, Chapter 21 - Atonement

From the Desktop of Bella Swan
Monday, September 13

Happy Birthday to me.

My birthday hasn’t been a day to celebrate in years, so I don’t know why I thought this time would be any different. Maybe because I had found love and happiness--the kind I never really dreamed I’d have. Or because I thought love could fix all the bad stuff, or at least make it bearable.

Maybe it can. Maybe it just needs time to work its magic, to let its healing fingers repair the damage.

That’s what I’m hoping as I stare out my bedroom window, feeling sixteen again. Feeling just like those first days when I stared hopelessly through these glass panes, wondering when I would feel whole again. Normal again. Happy again.

I’m thinking of Edward right now, of course. Always. I can see him in my mind’s eye, looking out his own rain-spattered window, absently stroking Lucky’s fur. I know he’s as miserable as I am, and it hurts me more than my own pain. My jaw ached every time I pressed the ice pack to his face Saturday night. He winced, I winced.

I understood then why he tried to spare me. He must have known how his own pain would cut me to the bone; how acutely I would suffer with him as he relived his horror, wallowed in his guilt. And yet it was a catharsis that neither of us could escape. We simply had to soldier through it.

I reminded myself how I’d relied on his strength to come to grips with my own past; to admit to him my own culpability, no matter how misplaced. And so I shored up my own reserves and stood strong for him so that he could do the same. I thought it would kill me inside, but I did it. I would do anything for him.

Now it’s his turn to do the same for me.

“You okay, Bells?”

The familiar, gentle gruffness of Charlie’s voice interrupted my thoughts. He leaned in my bedroom doorway, a look of concern furrowing his forehead.

“Yeah, Dad. I’m going to be.”

He nodded. “We can talk more in the morning. Or now, if you want. You just let me know.”

I gave him a grateful smile. “Tomorrow’s good. I’m pretty beat.”

He came into the room then and approached the desk chair where I sat; the chair in which I’d done my homework throughout my high school years, and wrote to you, Mom. He leaned down and kissed me gently on the temple. He gave my shoulder a squeeze and said, “It’s going to work out. You’ll see.”

I looked up at him with a modicum of surprise. Charlie wasn’t known for his cheerful optimism.

“You think so?”

“From what you’ve told me, yeah. I think so. Seems like this Edward has his heart in the right place. He was trying to spare you from things that had nothing to do with you; things you can’t do anything about now. Don’t know that I would have done any different myself.”

My surprise grew. Maybe he and Edward would get along better than I ever dreamed.

“Thanks, Dad.” I pressed my hand over his for a moment while he squeezed my shoulder reassuringly once more. He gave my hair a quick pat before leaving the room and heading off to bed.

Today was a bit of a revelation. Charlie and I aren’t much for words, but as soon as he gave me a bear hug in greeting, I felt hot tears spill from my eyes, followed by words from my lips. When he asked me what was wrong, the floodgates opened. I told him everything, from my troubles with Rosalie to my heartbreaking weekend with Edward. My poor dad had never gotten such an earful from me. But without you around, and Angela at Ben’s all weekend, I had nowhere else to turn.

Charlie was great. He listened; he nodded, hummed and grunted in all the right places. And now, he reassured me about Edward. Amidst the turmoil of my life, my relationship with my father has been an unexpected bright light. We reached a new level of closeness because of it. Bet you’re surprised to see that from your perch up there in the clouds, or wherever you are.

I can’t see the clouds now, but I know they’re out there. All I see is black; all I hear is the raindrops tapping a steady rhythm against the pane. I wonder if it’s raining in Seattle, or if Edward’s looking out at a starry night sky. He’d probably prefer the clouds right now.

I already had a text message from him when I arrived earlier.

Please let me know when you get there safely.

I answered immediately. I’m here. No problems on the road. How is your jaw?

Hurts like hell. It’s good for me. I’m glad your trip was uneventful. I love you.

Put ice on it again and take those pills your dad gave you. I love you, too.

I had thought it was bad when Alice hit Rosalie last Monday, but I was horribly naïve. I found out what real violence looked and sounded like when Tanya Donnelly’s father laid into Edward. The last time I’d felt terror like that was the accident. I had hoped I’d never have to see someone I love splattered with blood ever again -- hoped I’d never have to wear that blood myself. But Donnelly’s mammoth fist propelled a crimson gush from Edward’s mouth that spattered us both as he fell into me.

I shuddered now at the memory, but couldn’t keep myself from reliving it. Couldn’t stop remembering how Edward fought to keep his balance instead of knocking me sideways; how I tried in vain to steady him when that brute literally knocked him off his feet. I watched in horror as Edward’s eyes began to roll back in his head before his body slumped to the floor.

But I’ll never forget that second of clarity in his eyes, nor that macabre smile that twisted his lips, as he rasped his appreciation for the punishment he’d been craving for so long.

Edward actually said “thank you” to the man who knocked him out cold.

I wanted to throw myself at Donnelly and pummel him with my fists. Spit on him and claw at him and make him pay somehow for the damage he’d just inflicted.

But all I could do was scream while several club employees restrained him and kept him from coming at Edward again. Donnelly even tried to kick Edward as they dragged him away, and I glared in loathing at the man who would literally kick someone while he was down. Then I fell to my knees beside Edward and tried to roll him over. A waiter materialized on the other side of him and helped me. My relief was profound at the groan Edward emitted, and the flutter of his eyelashes, when we moved him.

His eyes were unfocused for a moment, but he squeezed my hand when I grabbed his.

“Bella?” he whispered, turning his head in my direction.

“I’m right here,” I told him, reaching out my other hand to smooth his hair and stroke the untouched side of his face.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

“Don’t be,” I told him. “Just lie still until we get you some help.”

The next hour was a blur of tennis club employees coming to Edward’s aid, followed by the arrival of the police. A sports medicine expert on staff checked Edward out in the infirmary, packing his mouth with gauze and thankfully determining that all of Edward’s teeth were still intact. He said he didn’t think that the split in Edward’s lip would need stitches, but that it wouldn’t hurt to see a doctor and dentist in a couple of days to make sure everything was healing properly.

Once Edward came to, he looked annoyed, or maybe embarrassed, by all the attention. He waved the medical attendant away and assured the police that he didn’t need an ambulance. When I suggested that he should go to the hospital to make sure he didn’t have a concussion, he gave me a look so baleful that I quickly bit my lip. Apparently his pride had been just as wounded as his face.

Still, he refused to press charges against Tanya’s father. The club higher-ups promised that they would take punitive action against him, and I almost snorted out loud at the suggestion. Suspending Donnelly’s membership would be a useless slap on the wrist.

“Edward, he assaulted you,” I pleaded with him. “Have him arrested, for God’s sake.”

He glared again, a warning look the likes of which he’d never directed at me. “Leave it alone, Bella. There’s no point. What’s done is done.” His voice was thick with the effort it took to speak through his gauze-filled wound.

He looked stubbornly up at the cops from the cot where he lay, half propped-up on pillows, while he held a cold compress to his swelling jaw.

The sports medicine guy piped up then. “Mr. Cullen, you should reconsider. If Mr. Donnelly had aimed about three inches higher, you might not be talking to us right now.”

My heart rate doubled at the meaning of his words. If Tanya’s father had punched Edward hard enough in the temple . . . No, it was unthinkable.

“Well, he didn’t. No permanent damage was done.” Edward’s eyes drifted; settled on the empty air in front of him. “We’re even now,” he muttered softly.

I shook my head in frustration. Edward’s refusal to push the issue left no other recourse but to release him, and worse yet, Tanya’s father. As disillusioned as I was that Edward had kept so much from me, I was much more furious at Donnelly for the way he behaved. If Tanya had taken her own life, then Edward was merely a convenient target upon whom to vent his pain and anger. He should be forced to own up to his misplaced aggression and face the consequences.

But Edward let him off the hook.

The club staff insisted on sending us home in a cab, following behind with Edward’s car. We sat hand in hand, wrapped in a stifling blanket of silence. Edward stared dully, unseeing, at the back of the driver’s seat while his other hand pressed the cold pack to his face. I couldn’t stop glancing at the spots of dried blood on his shirt collar. I couldn’t wait to get him back to the loft so I could get us both some clean clothes.

I went into mothering mode the minute we stepped inside the door. I took the ice pack from him and put it in the freezer to make it cold again. He followed me to the bedroom and watched from the doorway as I rifled through his drawers and got us both fresh clothes to wear. Then he let me lead him to the bathroom, where I undressed him and cleaned him up with a washcloth. It was the first time that there was no sexual intent in my actions, and none in his reactions. He simply looked resigned as I washed the blood away from him and then from myself. I helped him dress; he finally came to life and did the same for me, holding my favorite worn t-shirt of his over my head so that I could put my arms through the holes.

“Do you want to go to bed? Or sit up for awhile?” I asked him when we were done.

“Let’s go sit in the living room,” he mumbled thickly. His face was red and swollen; his eye socket turning a faint blue. It ached to look at him, his beauty even more poignant to me now that it was marred and twisted with pain. I took his hand and led him out to the couch.

“You sit down while I get the ice pack,” I ordered, dropping his hand.

“No, that can wait. My face is still completely numb.”

“Then let me get you some pain pills for when the cold wears off.”

He shrugged and slumped on the sofa while I rounded up some Advil and a glass of water. I administered the drugs and sat facing him on the couch while he swallowed and then cringed at the effort. I took the glass from him when he was finished and set it on the coffee table, then reached over and gently stroked his hair.

“Please stop taking care of me,” he mumbled wearily.

“I’ll never stop taking care of you. I love you.”

His eyes closed and he slowly shook his head. “Why?”

I sighed and continued to finger his hair. “I have no idea.”

His grin was short-lived before it turned to a grimace. “Don’t make me laugh.”

“I doubt I can right now,” I answered frankly.

He was quiet for a moment, that faraway look in his eyes again. He blinked and returned to the present.

“I’m sorry I put you through that,” he said with a penitent sigh. “You shouldn’t have had to find out about Tanya that way. I don’t know why I couldn’t seem to tell you everything before.”

“I do,” I answered. “Remember who you’re talking to? I know how much it hurts.”

It was his turn to reach out and take a few strands of my hair between his fingers. “I didn’t want you to hurt along with me.”

“It’s too late for that,” I said, putting my hand over his. “It has been for awhile.”

He nodded in acknowledgment. He continued to play with locks of my hair despite my efforts to take his hand in mine. He looked as if the strands between his fingers were the most fascinating things he’d ever seen.

Abruptly he stopped, then took a deep breath. “I guess I should start from the beginning.” His tone was purposeful; portentous.

“You don’t have to do this now,” I told him. “You can barely speak.”

“No. No more secrets.” A wry smile suddenly played at his swollen, cracked lips. “I sound like Rosalie did a week ago. Funny how it took a beating to get us both to finally drop our guards.”

“Hilarious,” I muttered dryly.

His hand was on my face then, thumb caressing my cheek. “I wish I had met you at U-Dub. You would have been a freshman when I was a junior, I think.”

“No, I think you were a senior when I started college,” I told him.

His wistful smile faded. “That is a pity. I met Tanya my junior year instead.” His hand dropped to the couch between us. He sighed and continued.

“Remember that comment you made about me and girls? That they were always fawning over me, my whole life?” I gave a brief nod. “Well, I guess you were right. I never had to work very hard to get a girl’s attention. That’s not such a good thing. It can make you cocky and arrogant. Or just bored.”

I bristled slightly, imagining the playboy that he used to be. “Men do like the chase,” I said. A generalization, to be sure, but one that seemed to be true more often than not.

“I think it’s in our DNA or something,” he agreed. “And I never had much opportunity to chase anyone. That’s probably why I was drawn to Tanya at first. I met her at a party, and she was doing her own thing, hanging out with her girlfriends. She wanted nothing to do with me. So, of course, I took that as a personal challenge to win her over.”

He reached for the glass of water on the table and took a sip. “Turns out I’d met my match, or so I thought. She never had much trouble attracting any guy she wanted, either. So we had fun playing cat and mouse for awhile.

“That’s how it was in the beginning. Fun. We were just having fun, I thought. We dated most of junior year, but I lived in an apartment with a couple buddies of mine, and she lived in a sorority house. We spent as much time studying and hanging out with our friends as we did hanging out together. It was a normal balance for two college kids. I thought everything was fine. I thought she was fine. A little wild, but I was into that at the time. She liked to party and have fun, and she didn’t seem to give a shit what anyone thought of her.”

He stopped and gave me a meaningful look. “I’ve always been attracted to strong women. Women who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves, or what they believe in.” He reached for my face again, caressing it briefly.

“But back then, I mistook brashness for strength. Tanya was headstrong and stubborn and willful. She did what she wanted, when she wanted. It was her way or the highway, with no in between.

“So I did things her way, for awhile. We saw each other more during the summer before our senior year, and that’s when I began to notice the problems. See the cracks in that carefree mask she wore.

“I started to realize just how often she was using recreational drugs, for one. I knew she liked to take a little Ecstasy before going out, and she’d come down by smoking pot. I wasn’t really into it because I don’t like feeling that out of control.” He stopped and mustered a crooked grin at me. “Imagine that.”

My answering smile was brief. His own faded quickly.

“Anyway, when the drug use became more frequent, I started to suspect that she was self-medicating. She probably should have been on lithium, or anti-depressants. I’ll never really know. I’m not a psychiatrist, and I wasn’t studying to be one. I didn’t see the signs right away. I just thought she was moody. Girls are moody, right? PMS or whatever.” He shrugged and gave me a guilty look. “That’s the way I thought back then. I didn’t think. I never dreamed there was anything seriously wrong until we moved in together.”

He paused, and I felt my blood growing cold with dread. Wherever this was going, it wasn’t good. And I didn’t like hearing about Edward’s only long-term relationship before me. I knew that was why I hadn’t pushed him to reveal the details, even though he needed to get whatever he was hiding out in the open. I was afraid of what I might hear. And now that the moment was at hand, that fear was palpable, forcing my heart to work harder to push the icy blood through my veins.

“We got a little more serious over the summer, and she started pushing for us to get an apartment together our senior year. Her parents didn’t approve. Neither did mine.” He let out a wry laugh. “Mom and Dad could see what a train wreck it would be. They never suspected what was really going on with her, but they always felt something was ‘off.’ They didn’t like her, and they didn’t bother to hide it from me. They were always civil toward her, of course. And her parents seemed to like me okay in the beginning. We even played tennis together a few times that summer. But they still didn’t want their little girl living in sin with me.”

He took another sip of water; made another grimace of pain. “Of course, we ended up doing what we damned well pleased. I think Tanya lived to defy her father. But then she’d turn right around and beg for his forgiveness after the fact. And of course, his perfect princess could do no wrong in his eyes, so she was always forgiven. I don’t even want to consider the psychological implications of that,” he said with a look of distaste.

“It was after we moved in together that I discovered just how bad her emotional and mental state was. I think she must have had classic bipolar disorder. She was up and down like a see-saw. Her highs would last for days, even weeks. She would go through frenzies of activity -- rearranging all the furniture in apartment, jogging three times a day, partying all the time, only sleeping three or four hours a night. It was exhausting. And when I couldn’t keep up with her, she’d tell me I was a stick in the mud, and that she was going to dump my boring ass and find someone new. I’d get fed up and tell her to go ahead. Then she’d start crying hysterically and accuse me of not loving her anymore. It was nuts.”

He paused, his puffy lips forming a bitter smile. “I always swore I’d never use words like that. ‘Nuts.’ ‘Crazy.’ But she wasn’t … normal. It took me a long time to see it. Or maybe it just took me awhile to admit it. But our fights started happening more often, because she was just … irrational. Giddy and euphoric one minute, depressed and crying the next.

“The manic episodes were almost worse than the depressive ones. She would talk a mile a minute, and she would make these grand plans for our future together. She kept hinting around at us getting married after graduation. She’d pester me constantly about where I was planning to go to med school so she could look for a job there, or maybe continue her own education. She was an art history major, and she was interested in architecture, so she’d taken some drafting and engineering courses. She was smart, when she applied herself. But she was getting more and more scattered and unfocused.

“I started to wonder if I was a bad influence on her, somehow. It seemed like she had gotten along better when she was living with all her friends in the sorority house. I think maybe she had more of a support system there than living alone with me. I had some really tough courses senior year, and I started going to the library and other places on campus to study because I couldn’t concentrate at the apartment when she was in one of her phases. And then, of course, she’d complain that I was never around and never paid any attention to her. She even accused me of cheating on her. Like I had the time or energy to even think about that.”

He let out an exhausted breath. “It was just a vicious circle. Nothing I did was right. But then she’d come out of it for a few days and she’d seem like her old self again. She didn’t always have depressive episodes. Sometimes she’d just be normal. Again, I hate to use terms like that, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I was able to talk to her rationally during those times, and I started to make gentle suggestions that she see a counselor to talk about what was going on. Because I think she knew, in her heart, that there was something wrong. She wasn’t happy. And I couldn’t seem to make her happy, no matter what I did.

“I finally succeeded in getting her to go to a psychologist a couple of times. Each time I did, her dad would find out about it and tell her that she was wasting her time and money, listening to ‘that psychobabble.’ He’d tell her there was nothing wrong with her that a long run or a couple games of tennis wouldn’t cure.”

Edward snorted derisively. “You saw for yourself what kind of man he is. Domineering, closed-minded. What he said went in that household. It’s no wonder she had such a rebellious streak -- a need to control her own world once she went to college and got out from under his iron fist. But she could never stop seeking his approval. And Daddy didn’t approve of shrinks, so that was that.”

Edward stopped for a moment. He looked so tired, and his bruises were worsening. I wanted to go get the ice pack for him, but I knew he needed to finish his story. I tried to wait patiently; tried to appear strong and capable even though I felt sick inside. I didn’t want to hear any more.

“The closer we got to the end of the semester and our final exams, the more stressed out we became. Our arguments were happening more often, usually over the fact that I still hadn’t decided what graduate schools I was going to apply for and the deadlines were getting near. She was pushing the marriage idea again, and the more she pushed, the more I balked. Her pressuring me only made me realize that I just couldn’t see that kind of future with her. I started admitting to myself that I didn’t really love her anymore. Not the way she needed me to, anyway. I couldn’t be her support system -- not when I felt like I was barely treading water myself. I just wanted out. And I knew that if that’s how I felt, I should end things with her before we got in any deeper.

“But it was so hard to bring myself to drop that kind of bomb on her when she was so fragile. I was afraid that if I threatened to leave her, she’d lose it entirely.

“So, I tried to wait it out until the end of the semester.” A bitter smile flitted across his face. “I failed miserably. About a week before finals, we got into one of our typical fights, and when she started in on me again, I just snapped. I told her that even if I had chosen a med school, I probably wouldn’t have told her about it because I wasn’t sure I wanted her to follow me there.”

Edward shook his head in regret. “She looked at me like I’d just slapped her. I guess I had, in a way. She was literally trembling when she said to me, ‘I’m sorry my existence is such a fucking inconvenience for you.’ Then she ran to the bathroom and slammed the door behind her.”

Edward took another drink of water; it clearly pained him to swallow. I wondered if we should change the gauze packing that distended his cheek, but now definitely wasn’t the time.

“I was so close to just walking out of the apartment and leaving her there to cool off. But something in her eyes -- in her voice -- told me to go after her. I got to the bathroom just in time to catch her swallowing a handful of pills.”

My breath caught in my throat, but Edward didn’t notice. He was too wrapped up in the memory as he continued.

“I wrestled the bottle from her and then forced her to throw up. I literally stuck my finger down her throat.” He paused, shuddering. I was too nauseous to even respond.

“I begged her to get help again. She told me she didn’t need a psychiatrist -- she just needed me. I tried to explain to her that I didn’t know how to help her anymore; that this was beyond me. But it was so hard to get through to her when she was like that. And I was getting so tired of it all. Of trying to be strong for both of us, and still keep up my grades. It was just too much. All of it.”

He sighed heavily and set his water glass back on the table. He finally looked at me then, in a strange mixture of apology and defensiveness. I could tell he didn’t want my pity, even though the situation warranted it. I tried to give him a look of reassurance, but in truth, I didn’t know how much more I could bear to hear.

“I managed to calm her down that night. I probably lied and told her all the things she wanted to hear, just so she wouldn’t be tempted to take any more pills. And she was fine for a few days. We managed to keep afloat a little while longer. But the same abyss dragged us down again, and within a week we were in the middle of another cesspool.”

Edward’s hollow gaze was focused on the past as he continued ominously. “It was the Thursday night before finals. Tanya wanted to go out; I wanted to stay in and study. That was all it took for us to start bickering -- such a simple thing. Such a ridiculous thing. But that’s what we were reduced to by then -- every little ripple between us turned into a huge tidal wave. It was just indicative of what was really going on beneath the surface.

“We said horrible things to each other. Ugly things meant to inflict as much emotional damage as possible. It finally ended with me telling her that I’d had enough -- I was moving out, and that when I came back the next day to get my things, I’d better not find her there.

“She flipped out, like I knew she would. But I’d gotten to the point where I was almost immune to her hysterics, and I told her as much.

“Then I remember her screaming at me, ‘I don’t know how else to get through to you!’

“And I told her, ‘You can’t. You can’t get through to me anymore. I’m done living like this. Until you can admit you have a problem and get some help, I can’t be with you anymore.’

“She said, ‘You think I’m crazy, don’t you? You think I’m a fucking nut case. Well if I am, it’s because you made me this way. The minute anything gets too heavy or too real between us, you shut down. If I even mention any plans for our future together, you clam up or run out the door.’

“And I replied, ‘That’s because I’m not sure I want a future with you.’”

Edward sighed heavily, his eyes bleary. “That set her off again, of course. But then I proved her point by deciding to stay at Jasper’s place that night. I remember trying to fill my backpack while she followed me from room to room, crying and begging me not to go. Her weakness only wore on my nerves at that point. I just wanted some peace … to not have deal with the madness anymore. I thought that maybe if I left for good this time, she’d take my advice seriously and see a psychiatrist. I don’t know. I was so tired. So done.”

He looked that way now, and I wanted to reach out to comfort him; but I seemed to be frozen, immobile with dread.

“She followed me to the door, grabbing at me, sobbing. It only repelled me. I was halfway out the door when she gave me her own ultimatum:

“'If you leave me, I’ll swear to God I’ll go through with it this time.’”

My heart dropped, imagining it. I braced myself for what I knew was coming.

“I just stared at her,” Edward continued. “We both knew exactly what she was talking about. I should have known she wasn’t bluffing. But I was so sick of her threats, so sick of her trying to manipulate me.

“So you know what I said to her?” Edward stopped his narrative and looked me dead in the eyes, challenging me. Daring me to ask him. I only stared back dumbly, my stomach twisting into painful knots as I awaited the terrible truth.

“I told her, ‘Fine. Go ahead. Put us both out of our misery. I don’t give a damn what you do anymore.’”

I wanted to squeeze my eyes shut in denial and swallow the bile that rose in my throat. But my eyes were locked with Edward’s in pity and horror as the reason for his guilt set in. I knew that it would do no good to try to convince him he wasn’t at fault, so I sat and waited for the truth to tumble from his lips like a head from the guillotine’s blade.

“Those were my exact words. I told a mentally unstable girl -- one I had professed to love -- to go ahead and kill herself.” His features were twisted in a self-loathing so sharp that its knife’s edge cut me to the core.

And then he abruptly laughed; a sick, slightly hysterical sound. “How the hell was I supposed to know that she’d pick that moment to start taking my advice? She never did what I told her before.”

“Edward . . .” My voice was a mere crumb. I wanted to soothe him, but didn’t know how. I wanted to stop him, but I knew it was no use. I simply sat, inert, and waited while he gathered his strength. His body tensed and his face contorted with the effort to continue.

“I went back the next day when I knew she’d be in class. It was silent as a tomb in the apartment. You’d think I would have sensed it … would have known I was walking into a shroud of death.

“But you know what I felt? Relief.” He stopped and gave me that hard, challenging look again. “I was relieved that she wasn’t there so I could pack my things in peace.

“So that’s what I did. I filled the Volvo with what I could carry and decided to leave her the bulk of the furniture. Most of what we had were flea market finds and hand-me-downs from our parents. I worked fast, wanting to get out before she came back from class.”

He paused again, and I felt every ounce of awful portent along with him as his breathing grew more ragged.

“The bathroom was the last place I went. I thought I’d taken most of my stuff out of there the night before when I went to Jasper’s place, but I decided I’d better check just to be sure.

“The door was ajar, and before I even turned the light on, I saw this metallic glint on the floor, near the bathtub. I remember staring at it for the longest time, like I couldn’t figure out what it was. Of course, I knew what it was. I just couldn’t figure out what a butcher knife was doing in the bathroom.

“I stood there in denial for I don’t know how long. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the horror of the truth. But there was blood on the knife -- I could see it clearly from where I was standing. And in that moment, I knew. I knew exactly what I would see when I stepped inside that room and walked toward that bathtub.

“I was frozen to the spot with dread. I wanted to turn around and run. But somehow I forced myself to walk to the tub instead. I felt like a puppet being jerked forward by strings -- being forced to come and face the grisly truth.”

Edward’s eyes squeezed shut for a moment; mine were wide with second-hand horror.

“She had filled the tub with enough water that she was completely submerged. I’ll spare you the details -- I’m sure you can imagine what I found. I stared at her body in … just … shock, I guess. Complete horror … disbelief. I didn’t want to accept that she had done that to herself. That she would really go through with it.

“I knew she was dead. I could see that she was long gone. But for some reason, I suddenly snapped to, like I’d been awakened from a nightmare, only to find that reality was ten times worse. I sprang into action then, far too late. I pulled her out of the tub; she was so cold and stiff that I could barely maneuver her. But I couldn’t give seem to give up. Couldn’t stop trying to breathe life back into her somehow. I gave her CPR and mouth-to-mouth -- utterly useless, but I had to do it. I had to try, even though I knew there was no way to resuscitate a corpse.”

“Edward, stop.” I was surprised to hear my own voice. It was a hoarse croak, a desperate plea. I couldn’t take any more. I wanted to block the vision in my head of Edward pulling Tanya from a pool of her own blood and trying to revive her. I knew how utterly devastating the ordeal must have been. How Edward would have been soaked in that sea of red, desperate and guilty and terrified to his very marrow. I knew about blood and horror and regret. The tears that rolled down my cheeks now were from a painfully familiar place.

Edward looked at me with red-rimmed eyes, his expression so fraught that I instinctively sought to comfort him. I reached out to smooth the battered side of his face, knowing that I was powerless to heal a pain that went so much deeper.

He winced, but mirrored my actions, his own fingers rising tentatively to my cheek.

“I didn’t want to make you relive that with me,” he whispered. His gaze faltered. “I didn’t want to relive it myself.”

“I know,” I answered, gingerly stroking his swollen face. “I hate that you ever had to go through something like that. It makes me sick inside.” I wrapped my arms around him and laid my head on his chest, right under his neck. I let my tears fall unfettered; let them soak the fabric of his t-shirt. His own arms wound protectively around me and he held me close for a long moment. I heard him sniff a couple of times, and I hoped that he was letting some of those pent-up emotions out. I hoped he was finding whatever solace in me that he could.

I finally raised my head and kissed him on the wound-free side of his face, tasting the saltwater of his tears. I wiped them away with my fingers; he reached up and did the same to me.

Sea of Red.

Edward’s song of pain materialized in my head, and I gasped at its full meaning. The words suddenly made sense to me now. What I had assumed to be metaphor had actually been gruesome, unthinkable reality. My heart ached for him in a way I’d never imagined it could.

“Edward, why did you tell me Tanya drowned?” I asked him quietly.

His smile was grim. “Another lie of omission for which I need to beg your forgiveness. The coroner’s report listed drowning as the official cause of death. The autopsy determined that after she slit her wrists, she lost consciousness due to loss of blood. She was technically still alive when she passed out and slid down into the water. She asphyxiated before she ever bled out.”

I shook my head violently then to silence him. “Dear God,” I whispered with a shudder. “Don’t apologize. I’m the one who’s sorry, Edward. I hate that she did that to you. To herself.”

He nodded in acknowledgment but said nothing. He looked haggard, like he’d just survived a battle. I knew that the emotional one was far more draining than the physical.

“Thank you for sharing that with me. I know exactly how hard this was for you.” I held his face gently and stroked his cheek with my thumb. “But I hope maybe you can start to let go of it now. The mental illness is what took her life. You do know that, don’t you?”

His lips twisted into a brief snicker. “Maybe if you tell me enough, I’ll believe it.”

I shook my head in resignation. “I think in your head, you already do. But the heart isn’t always so quick to follow.”

Edward’s fingers combed through the hair at my temple and he gave me a wan smile. “I’d ask you how you got so wise, but I know the answer to that. And I’m sorry for what you had to go through to achieve it.”

“I’m sorry for us both,” I answered quietly. I rose from the sofa to retrieve the ice pack from his freezer. When I returned, he was carefully picking the wad of blood-soaked gauze from the inside of his cheek.

“I must look like Marlon Brando with this shit in my mouth,” he joked weakly.

“A little. Much hotter, though,” I assured him. “Should I go get you some more gauze?”

He shook his head. “I think the bleeding has stopped.” But he grunted in pain when I carefully applied the ice pack to the side of his face again.

“We should call a dental surgeon. You might need stitches,” I said worriedly.

He shook his head. “The inside of the mouth heals quickly. It should be better in the morning.”

“You would make a really good doctor, you know,” I said. “You could still do it.”

He smiled briefly; his eyes looked lost in thought for a moment. “I’d have to repeat my entire senior year just to get my undergrad degree. I never did take my final exams for that first semester. The dean even offered to let me take them late, due to ‘extenuating circumstances.’ But I just … shut down, I guess. I never went back. Mom and Dad tried to be patient and supportive, but my father never could accept me blowing my education like that. I get why. He didn’t want to see me ruin my life over what happened. But I think ruining my life was my way of punishing myself for the way I handled everything. Or mishandled it, really. I figured I didn’t deserve a good life when I’d practically taken someone else’s with my carelessness.”

“You have to stop that,” I told him. “You didn’t make her do what she did. You said it yourself, to her father -- that you’re not responsible for her actions. That’s the truth. You have to let go of the guilt, no matter now tempting it is to hang onto it. It’s keeping you stuck in the past. And I really need you and want you here with me, in the present.”

His eyes swept over my face, grateful and loving and pained all at once. “You don’t even know what you’ve done for me. How you’ve saved me from myself. I’m so sorry if I hurt you. That was never my intention. That seems to be my gift -- hurting the ones I love with very little effort.”

“Stop it.” My voice was firmer this time. “You know how much you healed me. How you’ve been there for me when I needed you. I won’t let you wallow in this self-blame anymore. You didn’t raise the knife to Tanya any more than I deliberately drove my mother into the path of an oncoming truck. This has to end.” I regarded the doubt and sorrow in his eyes and my own sadness grew.

“Please,” I added softly.

His fingers worked my hair again, massaging my scalp, subconsciously soothing me when he was the one who needed comfort. “I’d do anything for you, Bella.”

“I know. But I think the question now is, would you do the same for yourself?”

His fingers stilled. His brow furrowed and the shadow of doubt flickered in his eyes again.

“I’ll try,” he said at last.

I nodded and reached over to press my lips tenderly to his. I knew that this was all he could promise me right now. And for now, it was enough.

I led him to the bedroom and arranged the bed pillows so that his head would be elevated more than normal while he slept. I helped him get situated under the covers, then held the cold compress to his face for awhile, smoothing his hair and stroking his battered but still beautiful face until he grew drowsy.

“You would make an excellent doctor yourself,” he murmured when I removed the ice pack and hopped off the bed to return it to the kitchen.

“Anything is possible. The future is wide open,” I reminded him.

His eyes remained closed, but his brief grin was reassuring. “I like how you think, Miss Swan,” he repeated.

“Then start thinking that way yourself,” I answered half under my breath as I left the room.

When I returned, he was unconscious. I carefully crawled under the covers and wrapped myself around him, but sleep was elusive for me. I couldn’t dispel the ugly images that invaded my mind. Every time Edward groaned or fidgeted restlessly in his sleep, I jerked awake and studied him in the dim light to make sure he was okay. When he awoke in the middle of the night, complaining of the throbbing in his jaw, I was quick to get him more pain pills. I was ready, willing and able to be his nursemaid until his physical wounds began to heal.

But the question that worried me throughout the long night was this: Would I be able to help him heal the wounds that ran so much deeper?

I prayed for strength as the dawn’s light began to filter around the edges of the bedroom window. I laid my head on Edward’s chest and let the soft rumble of his breathing lull me to sleep.

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